Love Beyond Reason

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This past week I attended Hillsong Conference Europe as I have every year for the past seven. In one of the evening sessions Carl Lentz, Hillsong New York lead pastor, preached a powerful message about God’s love. It was so significant that I think many were deeply moved and changed, myself included. If you’ve followed my blog for a while you will have seen I’ve returned to the subject of love in the scriptures often. Clearly, God is stirring something within me. This stirring should be an obvious expectation for a Christian, to linger on and develop in love, and yet sadly it isn’t. Carl’s message was based on John 13 v 34 – 35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples”. Interestingly, this passage is one Rich and I have talked a lot about over this past year as we’ve processed life’s changing scenery. I was reminded once again by his preach that there is no reasonable excuse not to love. Even when it hurts, when it’s messy and when it’s undeserved. When I look at Jesus and how He lived, and all that He has done and continues to do for me, I have no foundation to stand on that allows me not to love. To remain in Him and on this journey with Him, I must remain in love (see the previous post, Remain In Love). God is love. If I say yes to Him I say yes to love, there are no grey areas surrounding this subject.

What resonated most was how important the stakes are when considering love. People will see Jesus if only we love one another. We so often focus on our ‘calling’ or purpose, our work or the gifts and talents we have and how to develop them as we pray ‘me-centric’ prayers to satisfy our desires and yet we live in a world desperately crying out for love. God delights in us fulfilling all of our potential but not at the expense of love. Carl reminded us that love is easily defined – just look at Christ, it’s simply developed – follow Christ and it’s dangerous when demonstrated – Christ changed the world forever with His ultimate act of love.

So why do we make Christianity so complicated? At what junctures, in our well-meaning efforts, have we missed the mark and gone off track? I don’t know all the answers to those questions, but I do know the simple solution to realignment and the ultimate purpose of the Church – Love; to receive love, to have love and to give love.

To love is to show grace and mercy, to forgive without receiving acknowledgement or apology, to show kindness where others haven’t and to give second chances where most wouldn’t. Love gives with no hope of return. It goes further than one has asked and extends considerably beyond the limits of worth. There’s no way we can do any of this in our own strength nor should we try. When we misunderstand or misplace love it causes problems. Our own reserves are finite and easily wasted. True Love does not exhaust us until we are dry, empty and weary. It doesn’t cut deep and leave us broken, but it does penetrate the deepest recesses of our souls. I can’t love undeservedly and even deservedly of my own accord consistently and faithfully. I must place my love in Him and look beyond the reality of the circumstance towards Him.

His love is infinite and abundant, it never runs out, it encompasses all things if we allow it. Our hurts, disappointments, misplaced hopes and unfulfilled dreams all wash away in the ever-flowing stream of His love. Not only that but this plentiful and refreshing flow allows new things to be seeded and grow, joy to replace grief, life to replace death, peace to replace anger. His love knows no bounds and it waters even the darkest and most lifeless parts of our soul if we allow it.

There’s no situation I can face that Jesus does not understand. He was grossly misunderstood by his own people, falsely accused, rejected, beaten, abused and tortured. He acutely feels our pain. He asks us to forgive not to exonerate bad behaviour, but to set us free from the bondage of bitterness and hate. Love is the better way. He doesn’t ask us to pretend that things didn’t happen but rather He offers us healing. He doesn’t excuse poor behaviour, but rather teaches us to see the brokenness in others. He’s not asking us to try and love because people deserve it, He’s showing us how to receive His love so that we can move beyond our past.

True Love is unreasonable. Reason informs me that because of this they deserve that. Reason is a good thing and applied well can carry great wisdom. But love trumps reason.

Love melts away anger and offers comfort. It has the ability to bring us to our knees because we choose it not because we are forced and then it gently lifts us up and restores.  

Love doesn’t offer us behaviour modification as prescribed by self-help gurus, although that may be a fruit of its tender embrace. Rather it offers hope, belonging, faith and security. It first pours in and only when we are full to overflowing is it required to spill out into our lives. Really God isn’t asking us to do too much more than allow Him to first love us and see what happens. To quote an old hymn, “love changes everything”. I’ve written it before and no doubt I will again because I personally need reminding of it daily, “Love NEVER fails” (1 Corinthians 13 v 8).

There’s an old Aesop fable I remember hearing as a child about a dispute between the North Wind and the Sun. As they discussed which of the two was stronger, a traveller passed by wearing a cloak. They agreed that whoever would be able to strip the man of his cloak would have the greater strength. The North Wind went first and blew and tore angrily at the cloak but this only made the traveller hold onto it all the tighter. When the sun had its turn, the warmth of its rays offered much relief and as the heat gently grew stronger, of his own free will the traveller removed his coat. This old tale reminds me of the love of God, it’s strong and powerful like the heat offered by the sun but it doesn’t force itself upon us and demand we let down our guard. Rather it warms and shines and gently nudges us to let go of our burdens.

Give Love a chance, your life and others depend on it.

Merry-Go-Round

MERRY-GO-ROUND copy

On a recent trip to Brighton, I enjoyed a brush with the past and some childhood whimsy as I joyfully rode on a merry-go-round. I was a little sceptical as to whether I would enjoy it as much as I did as a child, but I needn’t have worried, because it was blooming marvellous! However, it did seem to last a little too long and towards the end, it was becoming a little awkward being one of only two adults on a ride full of mostly children. Plus, there’s only so many times you can circulate the same views before becoming mildly nauseated (I loved it really!)

There’s nothing wrong with a little fun on a fairground ride and life should most definitely be enjoyed. However, like the merry-go-round that repeated the same motions over and over, and continued around the same axis a little too long for my liking, life too can become tiring, boring and nauseating when we continue to circle around the same issues. Week after week or even year upon year we can face the same battles if we’re not careful. Sometimes they’re disguised as something different but if we dig a little deeper, we’d see the root of our issues is still very much the same. Whether it’s a struggle with relationships or finances, insecurities, health concerns or our past, life has a way of allowing us to think that we’re making progress. We appear to be moving forward until something happens that forces us to realise we’ve actually been journeying around in a large circle only to have ended up right back where we started.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we’re supposed to speed through life and conquer one thing after the other like we are totalling up points in a computer game, and I also believe that certain things take time to process and change. We need time to grow and mature. Nevertheless, I wonder how much more I could accomplish or how much further on I could be in some areas of my life had I jumped off the merry-go-round of some of my struggles sooner and dealt with them earlier. Can anyone relate? Like the moments you think to yourself, “why am I here again?” Or “why am I dealing with this again?”

I can’t help but think of the plight of the Israelites in Exodus, as they travelled unknowingly and unnecessarily for much longer than needed in the desert. A people miraculously rescued from slavery, destined to be known as “God’s people”. They were guided and protected by His Presence, despite themselves, and set up to show the world the Glory of an amazing, saving, all-powerful God. Which they did, through no effort or deservedness of their own but purely because of God’s mercy and grace. One of the saddest things about their wilderness experience is that the oldest generation saved from Egyptian slavery died in the desert. Thank God that their offspring still went on to inherit the land the Lord had promised, but I can’t help but feel a little sorrow for those who perished in their desert season, they were saved for freedom and yet missed out on their promise. Their discouragement and grumbling claimed their inheritance. They failed to remember and see the goodness of God and mature from their past issues.

It makes me ponder my own life and salvation and some of the things that maybe I encircle around. Things that have held me hostage for too long when I should be living in a promise. Doesn’t the world need to see the people who claim to be God’s, carrying His Presence, seeing His victory and overcoming their battles and living in the promise? Not for selfish or exclusive reasons that lord it over others, instead because people everywhere have needs and face various issues daily. They could do with knowing about a loving and saving God who, despite the issues of life is able to penetrate our circumstances with His grace, favour, healing and restorative power. There’s not only our promise at stake but others too.  

Of course, when we become Christians, life doesn’t just magically and instantly improve. We learn many things gradually as our revelation of Him deepens. But, what holds us back from our breakthrough? What stops us from taking hold of the promises of God? Yes, we have been ‘saved’ and our eternity is sure and that’s the most amazing gift we have, but to quote Brian Houston, “There is more” for us now. More to pursue, more to do, more to be. Eternity starts now.

What if we weren’t always playing a defensive game which sees us reacting to the issues of life, feeling like we’re always on the back foot and just managing to get through? What if we played in the offence for a change. Rather than feeling like we’re always fending off the attacks of the enemy when they arise, why not start from a position of victory (1 Corinthians 15 v 57), put on our armour (Ephesians 4) and take some ground for a change. Move forward. Advance. First, in our own lives so that we can cease riding upon the same old problems. Then, for the lives of others so that we are free to actually show and tell the good news of Who God is in our everyday lives. Whilst we remain on the defensive and focus on putting out the same old fires, we are distracted from deploying all that we have access to as children of God (Romans 8 v 16) and co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8 v 17) to take down the kingdom of the enemy. We don’t want the world to look on and wonder what’s so special about being a Christian, but rather think I want to know their God. Will life stop throwing us lemons? No. We are after all part of a greater eternal battle, but we can learn to slice those lemons and make delicious lemonade for ourselves and others along the way. A soldier with some successful battles under his/her belt has the confidence to pursue the enemy and wisdom to take him down.

So what must we do? Well this is just a short blog post and not a Bible study, plus I’m running out of words but here are three quick things I’m learning to practice:

Pray – It’s absolutely one of our greatest weapons and key to unlocking our breakthroughs. It connects us with God, opens heaven, keeps focus, changes us and declares truth. I start with the Lord’s prayer because, well, Jesus told us how to pray, so it has to be the best way.

Don’t Delay – This is a very tenuous title (don’t judge me!), but I wanted them all to rhyme! So, here are some cheeky subpoints that are actually the point! Don’t delay:

  • In the Word – It’s alive and active and our firm foundation. It guides, declares, corrects and brings life. 
  • In taking action – whether that be getting help, stopping or starting something, just do it!

Slay – Change my perspective and therefore my position. I’m on the side of victory and I’m going after that which belongs to God. We have no reason to fear when we realise the battle is the Lords.  

FYI – I haven’t got this nailed! But we can’t keep doing the same things and expect different results. God is good – let’s hold Him to it. Time to get off the merry-go-round.

Delete Forever

DELETE FOREVER

Unfortunately, I’m one of ‘those’ people when it comes to computers! Quite often mistakes are down to user error rather than a computer fault. There are others in the family who are far worse than me but they shall remain nameless so that I don’t get in trouble! One thing I have accidentally done before is pressed the ‘delete forever’ option. It’s great when freeing up space on my computer and I mean to erase that which I have now deemed as ‘trash’. However, it’s not so good when I didn’t mean to remove a file in the first place and in an attempt to retrieve it, I again erase it and banish it forever!

It’s interesting that my computer was designed in such a way that I’m able to resurrect things that I’ve scrubbed out. To undo that which I have done. It’s also interesting that it doesn’t completely delete things the first time even though that’s my intention. This is great when I’ve made a mistake and need to get a piece of work back. Other times it’s frustrating that I have to delve back into my ‘trash’ and choose again to delete the things I thought I’d already erased to ensure that they are completely gone! I wonder if whoever designed it knew that as humans our nature is to hold onto things unnecessarily, or second guess our decisions, or feel the need to drag back into the present that which is belongs in the past. Who knows, they probably didn’t think too philosophically about it, but hey it works for my post.

“Love keeps no record of wrongs.”

1 Corinthians 13 v 5

Yep, I’m still mulling over the words of 1 Corinthians 13. Perhaps it’s due to an increased hunger to experience more of the Presence of God who is Himself Love (1 John 4 v 8) and so I have a heightened awareness of Him and therefore It.

As I read verse 5 through the lens of His love for me, evermore so because it’s Easter, I feel humbled, grateful and undeserving that He chooses to keep no record of my wrongs. To wash them as white as snow and delete them forever as though they never happened. It’s not just forgiveness I receive when I accept His love for me, and that would be more than enough, but it’s no kept record of the dark parts of myself that nailed Him to the cross. That’s pretty mind-blowing. I could thank Him for that forever.

What challenges me is to love likewise. How do we keep no record of wrongs when we are hurt, we are grieved or scarred deeply? To forgive is one thing, and that in itself can take a lifetime, but to keep no record, wow that’s a tough call. Sometimes we might think we are ‘over’ things and perhaps have told ourselves such, when in actual fact we have buried the pain deep within, pushed it aside or tried to close a lid on it. The issue with that, however, is that when you bury a seed it has the potential to grow. Although day to day we may seem ok whilst getting on with life, a root of bitterness may be waiting to spring forth and rear its ugly head. Like a weed, it wishes to sap energy and choke future possibilities to love, have meaningful friendships and relationships, dreams, hopes and purpose. Understanding that the personal stakes are high is not the hard part, the difficulty is in actioning this aspect of love.

There are times when we are right to be angry, when we are victims and when we want to learn from circumstances and guard our hearts for the future, but how do we really find the courage to forever delete the records of those that have hurt us?

I’m not sure the answer is instant, in fact, I think it’s a lifelong pursuit. I guess we would have to start with the cross, for that is where the debt of our wrongdoings has painfully and undeservedly been paid for. I know when I truly think on the love that nailed Jesus to the cross, the last thing on my mind is what others have done to me, but rather what He has done for me. In those moments, all I feel is the warmth and overwhelming sense of His grace. When I know His grace and it penetrates the depths of my soul, it’s abundance seeps out. It’s so important to visit the cross and linger often, to pause and pray, to worship and repent, to cry and to be grateful. But our journey doesn’t end there. We need to look up and look on and see the resurrected Christ, Who draws us unto His life-giving self, full of hope and promise and future and love.

From a place of accepting and knowing His love, we can start to heal and move forward. Embraced by His love, the hurt inflicted on us, intentionally or unintentionally, becomes harder and harder to see as it fades into our past as He leads us heavenward.

One thing I am learning is that there is no limit to the depth of His engulfing love, the more I ponder on it, experience it and sit within its healing, it becomes more and everything else becomes less.

So how do we delete forever and not keep things stagnating in our ‘trash’ file? Well, it’s not so much a case of press this button and it’s gone, but rather the answer is simply, Him. To be in Him, to walk with Him, to allow Him to love us. I imagine it will transpire a little differently for us all as He knows us individually and personally, but the answer is still Him. The many depths and wonders of Him, His love, His grace and His peace.

I pray this Easter as we remember its significance and continue to draw ever closer to Him, the painful things stored away in our memory bank, the insecurities, regrets, hurts and losses will fade evermore into the distance.  

“Love NEVER fails.”

1 Corinthians 13 v 8

Happy Easter 

One Shot

one shot

I was watching BBC Breakfast recently and a gentleman in an interview made this statement, “There’s no dress rehearsal for life.” He inferred that we’ve only got one shot at this thing called “life”, so therefore we may as well give it all that we’ve got. For whatever reason, at that moment his words really struck a chord with me, and I started to think about all of the time I’ve wasted throughout my life waiting for some kind of permission to live my best life. Perhaps due to waiting in a false humility for opportunities to present themselves, taking scripture out of context and not wanting to self-elevate. Self- promotion for the sake of selfish gain is never a good thing, but we can so often confuse that with passionately and unapologetically pursuing the fulfilment of all that God has placed within us.

Have you ever apologised for yourself? Apologised for your gifts or passions? Not wanted to seem too keen, or held yourself back because you wanted to be a good servant. Being a good servant and honouring leadership are wonderful things, I’m not talking about being a lone ranger and doing your own thing through selfish ambition. However, we have one short span of time called life to use up the potential, gifts and passions within us to the betterment of humanity for the glory of God, so what are we waiting for? What a sad thing it would be, to be at the door between this world and the next and still be full of potential, like a battery full of energy but never used. I want all of my potential to have run out because it’s been converted into destiny.

For a long time I misunderstood calling and purpose and it sometimes stunted me from moving forward whilst I waited for permission from God or others to be me. From a pure heart of wanting to do the right thing and not miss out on His “calling” for my life, I ended up often more confused and frustrated as I waited for a big flashing sign to guide me in a certain direction. When I realised that I was “called out of darkness into His wonderful light,” (1 Peter 2 v 9) and that my purpose, therefore, was to help others know this same transformation; “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations,” (Matthew 28:19), my whole perspective changed. No longer did I need permission to be me, to be who God created me to be, to love the things that I loved and be good at the things I was good at. I didn’t need confirmation as to whether or not I was “called” to be a dancer or this or that, but rather I shifted my focus to see the bigger picture.So often as Christians we can over-complicate things. This must give the devil much amusement as we trip over ourselves whilst trying earnestly to be our best selves by somehow quenching the very things that we love. It’s simpler than we think. Romans 12 v 1-2 sums it up beautifully,

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.” (The Message)

Give your life to God, every bit of it, and be you. Be you, your best you, and in doing so, every day give your life to God, your breathing, thinking, planning, dreaming, mundane, exciting, interactions and relationships. Give it all to God and get on with it. If we seek God and His kingdom first (Matthew 6 v 33) and truly worship Him in everything, then we can rest assured that, “..then we will be able to test and approve what God’s will is.”  (Romans 12 v 2 NIV).

The goal is Christ, to be in His Presence and to be transformed by His Presence. If we gave our every day to Him, we would love more, forgive more and be kinder. We’d be the best boss, the best daughter/son, sister/brother, wife/husband, mother/father, friend. We’d be the best customer at the checkout, the greatest encourager, the most generous giver. We’d notice people and care about others and the world entrusted to us. We’d work hard to pursue our desires because we could rest assured they were His too as we delight in Him (Psalm 37 v 4). Our natural bent, the overflow from our heart would be to bless others and grow His Kingdom on earth. So often we make the goal the gift, “call”, ministry, career, purpose, achievement, success and miss the simplicity of just being, being in Him.

If we aimed to fully know Him and be fully known by Him, we would question less if we’re doing the right or wrong thing because we’d know Him and His character. I’ve been with Rich now for a decade and his wife for 8 years of that. It’s safe to say I know him pretty well, we talk every day, we share the fun times and the hard times, and I’m pretty confident I know how’d he react in most situations. I know how he’d feel about a variety of subjects because I’ve taken the time to build our relationship, and it’s two way. I know his heart.

When I look at the Israelites, they were imperfect and often foolish and grumbling. Yet God chose them to reflect His goodness. He rescued them, saved them, won battles for them and provided for them. The world looked on in awe as His Presence, protection and provision were with them, despite themselves. There’s a whole world out there, in all types of situations, circumstances, jobs, cities, countries and war zones that need to look at us and see God’s Presence. They need to see the blessing of being under His protection and salvation despite our failures and mistakes. They need to see us being our best selves because our identity is placed in Him, our love flows from Him and His grace helps us each day. They need to see what it’s like to be called out of darkness into His wonderful light and in so doing want it too.

It’s time to stop worrying, fretting, deliberating, apologising. Pray, find His Presence, look for His peace and go for it! We have one life! Make the most of it!